After hearing the stories of Sonoma County residents and businesses and witnessing changing conditions even while this Action Plan was under development, the consulting team updated the Sonoma-Mendocino CEDS vision statement to match Sonoma County while keeping the key themes alive. The Strategic Sonoma vision statement follows:
Sonoma County is a resilient, inclusive, and economically diverse community.
Since the Sonoma-Mendocino CEDs was completed and during the development of Strategic Sonoma, the October 2017 wildfires struck Northern California. The fires were some of the deadliest in California history and destroyed more than 5,300 homes in Sonoma County, disrupted hundreds of businesses, and impacted the lives of countless residents – especially those most economically and socially vulnerable. The fires drew Sonoma County together. Residents and businesses across the county, state, and U.S. generously gave what they could to help those in need and begin the process of rebuilding.
The fires also brought some perennial issues into sharp focus. Particularly, a pre-existing lack of housing to support residents was severely compounded by the significant loss of homes to the fires. In February 2018, Avalanche Consulting assisted the Sonoma County EDB in preparing an Economic Recovery Plan in response to the fires. That Plan focuses on immediate needs to help existing residents and businesses recuperate in Sonoma County. The greatest immediate need remains constructing housing – both rebuilding homes destroyed by the fires and creating enough housing to match additional unmet need. All told, this number totals 30,000 or more housing units. Until this challenge is met, Sonoma County remains at risk of losing residents who cannot find or afford a place to live. In turn, it will be difficult for businesses and other organizations to operate – from manufacturers and growers to nonprofits, hospitals, government agencies, and schools.
ire recovery and housing are the most immediate priorities for Strategic Sonoma. Without new housing, many residents, especially middle- and lower-income residents, will be forced to leave Sonoma County. Rebuilding during fire recovery offers Sonoma County leaders an opportunity to rethink and restructure how housing and other development takes place. And it must if the county is to meet its goal of 30,000+ new housing units. The City of Santa Rosa’s current updates to zoning and development processes, openness to utilizing City-owned downtown sites for multi-family housing, creation of online tools to monitor permitting and construction, and incentives for clean, green building practices is a positive example of how recovery can lead to a more resilient, long-term future.
s Sonoma County leaders continue to address housing and fire recovery, they must also make other community investments that help residents and businesses stay competitive – including more strategic programs focused on workforce training and development. Not all residents of Sonoma County have benefitted from its economic growth of recent years. There are significant income, education, and other opportunity gaps among residents, especially between White and Latino residents, that must be addressed. High quality, equitable, and economically-aligned workforce development and education are critical to long-term success.
In addition to creating more potential for residents to attain a quality life in Sonoma County, Strategic Sonoma also aims to help local businesses thrive in a changing economy. In fact, Strategic Sonoma’s focus is on creating an environment in which residents can attain a high standard of living and local businesses and entrepreneurs have the support they need to succeed. Rather than attracting new businesses into the county, this means ensuring access to resources, making investments in technological advancement, developing R&D partnerships, and providing entrepreneurial support – alongside addressing clear needs such as improving local skills training and infrastructure.
chieving the Strategic Sonoma vision will require collective action – bringing together public agencies, non-profits, educators, private businesses, and individual residents to work together to achieve specific, measurable goals. As Sonoma County partners move forward on this journey, communication will be key – listening to residents, telling the Strategic Sonoma story, and holding each other accountable to the shared vision and goals.